More than thirty years after the publication of his acclaimed memoir The Eden Express, Mark Vonnegut continues his remarkable story in this searingly funny, iconoclastic account of coping with mental illness, finding his calling as a pediatrician, and learning that willpower isn’t nearly enough.
Here is Mark’s childhood spent as the son of a struggling writer in a house that eventually held seven children after his aunt and uncle died and left four orphans. And here is the world after Mark was released from a mental hospital to find his family forever altered. At the late age of twenty-eight—and after nineteen rejections—Mark was accepted to Harvard Medical School, where he gained purpose, a life, and some control over his condition.
The brilliantly evoked events of Mark Vonnegut’s life are at once perfectly unique and achingly relatable. There are the manic episodes, during which he felt burdened with saving the world, juxtaposed against the real-world responsibilities of running a pediatric practice. At times he felt that his parents’ lives would improve if only they had a few hundred more bucks in their bank account, while at other points his father’s fame merely heightened expectations that he be better, funnier (and crazier) than the average person.
Ultimately a tribute to the small, daily, and positive parts of a life interrupted by bipolar disorder, Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So is a wise, unsentimental, and inspiring book that will resonate with generations of readers.
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Mark Vonnegut on Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So
I wrote Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So because I was increasingly annoyed with my younger self, who had wrapped up everything with a bow. You can try but you don’t just get to get over mental illness at age twenty-five, go to medical school, write a book, get married and call it a wrap.
In the seventies I was in so in love with the medical model I almost thought I had invented it. "No shame. No blame." I was thrilled to not have my health be dependent on the sanity of society or the wellness of those around me. I was magnanimous about not wanting to credit insight or hard work or circumstances like the kindness of others. Now, the medical model has morphed into "Shut up and take your pills." What passes for care is medication, medication, and more medication, the purpose of which is only incidentally and occasionally to help the patient get a life.
Much of mental illness is genetic, but I’m now quite sure there are people with more or less the same genetics I have who never go crazy and others who never get well. As a kid who wrote a little and painted a little and played a little music, I certainly didn’t want my mental health riding on anything as flimsy as my creative abilities but, among other things, I’ve come to see that a willingness to write, paint and play music is more than a little important to progress and just trying to keep my feet under me.
It was the feeling that good things had happened to me in spite of myself, that I had a rich life that showed itself in my house and how I practiced pediatrics and how we lived as a family that made me want to write Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So. I’m grateful to the gritty clench-jawed kid who wrote The Eden Express, I think it’s an excellent book, but I’m glad I’m not him anymore.About the Author:
Mark Vonnegut is the only son of the late Kurt Vonnegut and Jane Cox Vonnegut and the author of The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity, an ALA Notable Book. A full-time practicing pediatrician, he lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son.
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